Ahh, the late 20th century, when Will Smith the comedic actor was at the top of his game having come off of the incredibly successful Men In Black, which was directed by Sonnenfeld, who was having a string of good luck himself, with MiB, Get Shorty, and the Addams Family movies.
So, they paired up again for this update on the classic 60s program of the same name, which is the next stop for me in the Sci-Fi Chronicles book. Featuring an all star cast including Kevin Kline, Salma Hayek, Ted Levine, M. Emmet Walsh and Kenneth Branagh, with an all out western score by Elmer Bernstein, this one seemed like a sure fire hit coming hot on the heels of Men In Black. Heck Will Smith even recorded a song for this one as well.
This was one of the first films that when I saw it in the theater I thought, I paid money for this?! The story is ill-conceived, the humor is immature, and none of the cast is given anything substantial to do.
The idea was sound enough, and it prefigures the steampunk genre and fascination, so it missed that boat by a few years, but poor execution of a fairly solid idea caused this one to fall apart at the box office.
Set in 1869, U.S. Army Captain James West (Smith) is paired with U.S. Marshal and inventor Artemus Gordon (Kline) are assigned to hunt down Confederate General McGrath (Levine) believing he is behind a rash of missing scientists.
He is only a link in the chain, however, working for Loveless (Branagh), who could be Gordon’s inventing equal.
Joining them on their gadget filled train car, the Wanderer, is Rita Escobar (Hayek) who is looking for her father, one of the missing scientists.
Loveless has a plan to kill the president, to take over the country, and help the South to rise again.
It all plays like one lame joke after another, with no real drama, terrible gags, and anachronistic dialogue. I’ll let them have the steampunk side of things, because that’s a big part of the film, but the characters are unrealized, with no sense of real jeopardy, but its not quite played as camp.
It’s one big huge misstep. Even the actors seem to lack chemistry, despite the fact that I’m sure the pairing of Smith and Kline should have worked well together.
I fear to think what any of the cast and crew thought while they were filming this, I mean there are some things you can fix in post, but there is nothing redemptive in this film at all, and it’s truly a wonder that everyone walked away from this fairly unscathed, and were still able to make films.
And, watching it for the blog, I can say this, it’s just as bad, if not worse, as I remember. The source material would have been better served with a stronger script and story, perhaps dialing back a little of the steampunk elements, and maybe make sure that there was onscreen chemistry for your actors, because for me, it felt like absolutely none of them wanted to be there.
And if they don’t, why should I?